Delhi’s Air Quality Deteriorates, Prompting Closure of Schools and Emergency Measures
New Delhi, the capital city of India, has once again found itself enveloped in a thick, toxic haze as air quality continues to linger in the “severe category.” The city, along with Kolkata and Mumbai, has made its way onto the list of the world’s most polluted urban centers, according to data provided by the Swiss Group IQAir.
In the latest reports, New Delhi stands at the top of the real-time list with an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 483 as of 7:30 a.m. This was followed by Lahore with an AQI of 371. Kolkata and Mumbai were also included among the five cities hit hardest by air pollution, with AQI readings of 206 and 162, respectively. For context, experts and healthcare professionals recommend an AQI of less than 50 for a healthy individual.
Officials attribute the spike in air pollutants to a seasonal combination of factors, including low temperatures, stagnant wind patterns, and crop residue burning in neighboring states.
The situation has left many of New Delhi’s nearly 20 million residents grappling with various health issues, including eye irritation and sore throats. The city’s skies have taken on a dense gray hue as AQI levels have surged above 550 in some monitoring stations. To put this into perspective, an AQI ranging from 0 to 50 is considered good air quality, while readings between 400 and 500 can adversely affect the health of even those without preexisting conditions.
Dr. Ahmed Khan, a physician in Delhi, recently shared his observations on a social media platform, noting a surge in health problems among residents. “In my last 24 hours of duty, I saw babies coughing, children coming with distress and rapid breathing,” he expressed.
A major concern lies in the concentration of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, which has reached 523 micrograms per cubic meter. This level is a staggering 104.6 times higher than the permissible guidelines established by the World Health Organization. Long-term exposure to PM2.5 particles, which are approximately 30 times thinner than human hair and can infiltrate the bloodstream through the lungs, is linked to the development of chronic heart and respiratory conditions.
In response to the worsening air quality, a crisis plan has been put into action in the national capital. This plan includes a halt to construction activities, the promotion of public transportation use, and encouraging remote work when possible.
New Delhi is set to host the Cricket World Cup, and in an attempt to mitigate hazardous air pollution levels, organizers have prohibited the use of fireworks during matches in Mumbai and Delhi.
In a related development, Bangladesh was scheduled to face Sri Lanka in Delhi on Monday but decided to cancel a Friday training session due to the persistent haze. There seems to be little hope that air quality will improve in time for their upcoming match.
Education Minister Atishi of Delhi recently announced that primary schools in the city would remain closed until November 10, as the pollution levels show no signs of abating. For students in grades 6-12, the option of switching to online classes is being provided.
As part of the national air pollution control plan, all emergency measures, including a ban on polluting trucks, commercial four-wheelers, and all types of construction, will be enforced in the National Capital Region when the AQI surpasses the 450 mark. The situation underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address air quality concerns in Delhi and other affected regions.